Book Review: Ships in the Field by Susanne Gervay

As proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ‘Everyone has the right to a nationality’, and this aptly summarises the underlying theme of the this book’s endearing tale. We are transported into the world of a child whose family, after being uprooted by war, has sought refuge in a foreign land.

It begins with the girl sharing some heart-warming moments with her papa, painting a picture of a joyful and content family life.  But under this playfulness lie the scars of the past and the uncertainties of the future.  We’re given glimpses of what life was like for her parents before they were forced to flee. The war has had a profound impact on her mother. She seldom smiles, appears withdrawn and sheds a silent tear in the darkness of the night.

As the story progresses, the little girl draws strength from the new day; the arrival of the sun symbolising a new beginning in their lives. The family sets out for a picnic in the forest and she climbs a tree to gaze upon the stretches of vast open land, signifying their freedom.

In the end the arrival of an unexpected but welcome surprise brings back the smiles and renewed hope. This builds the reassurance that despite the hurdles they’ve experienced in the form of differences in occupation, nationality and language, they will be just fine.

The illustrations by Anna Pignataro are splendid and work in harmony to provide a great insight into what is left unsaid in the narrative. The changing colors and tones show the transition from the gloom and loss of war to the hope and brightness of a new life.

This story, through its ingenious text and vivid illustrations, is suitable for children of all ages. Susanne Gervay has cleverly depicted the story in a manner that every child can appreciate and comprehend. It can also assist in developing qualities of empathy and tolerance. Her talent to write complex stories of realism with pure simplicity is truly commendable.

Teaching notes are available at:

Book Details:

Author: Susanne Gervay

Illustrator: Anna Pignataro

ISBN: 978-1921665233

Format: Hardcover

Publisher: Ford Street Publishing (Distributed by PanMacmillan)

RRP: $26.95 (aud)

Suitable for ages: 3+

Awards: Speech Pathology of Australia Book of the Year for Lower Primary 2012 (Shortlisted)

Book Review: Ships in the Field by Susanne Gervay


  1. Jen said: On June 18, 2012

    As an immigrant myself, I am fascinated with immigrant stories. This looks like a great one to share with my kids (who are confused that I don’t come from the same place I do!)

    • It is lovely. Have you also read The Arrival by Shaun Tan? I think you’d really love that one too.

  2. Sharon said: On July 5, 2012

    A sensitive and heart-warming story that can be read over and over again, just ask my granddaughter. The story appeals on so many levels and the illustrations are enchanting.

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